Picasso: Life and Art

By Pierre Daix; Olivia Emmet | Go to book overview

25
FROM GUERNICA TO MUNICH
1937-1938

During the 1914 war the innovative setting in which Picasso had been developing as an artist since the autumn of 1905 was gradually destroyed, but his own vital center had remained intact. Now, however, with war in Spain and the threat of aggression from Hitler, the situation was entirely different. Both the victory of the Frente popular and a Spanish Republican government allied to France seemed threatened, along with everything Picasso believed in, everything which had made him leave his own country and settle in France. With civil war in Spain, with Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany just across the French borders, anyone in a public position felt pressured by circumstances to take sides. One had to be either for or against—a choice which, with all its consequences, was consuming.

Since January 1937 Picasso had been struggling with a commission from the Spanish Republican government: a painting to occupy one wall of the official Spanish pavilion at the Universal Exposition. The exhibition was scheduled to open in Paris in June. Since 1906 Picasso's work as an artist had been based on the premise that the meaning of life could be found in the shape of a glass on a table, in a woman's face reduced to its volumes or to its violence, or in the musical rhythms of anatomy. But never by abandoning the language appropriate to painting—its essential medium and forms of expression—for the sake of an external idea or narrative.

This belief was not simply a "theory": it was the central vision of Picasso's art. He could remember very well his sense that he was moving toward his true self when he refused wholehearted commitment to extreme virtuosity of the kind that won him early acclaim, with the astonishing technical accomplishment of his adolescent paintings First Communion and Last Moments. Although he felt a powerful drive to work and struggle in the company of allies, his efforts nonetheless would have to be with weapons of his own choosing. And certainly his aims could never be accomplished by capitulation to those—even among friends—who wanted him to produce repetitions or variations of Goya's Tres de Mayo. He also knew very well that his painting probed far more deeply into the crises of the time

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